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KODÁLY | Dances of Galánta



ZOLTÁN KODÁLY (1882-1967) 

Dances of Galánta


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Until 1900, when he went to the University in Budapest, Kodály had spent his entire life in remote railway stations across Hungary. His father had been appointed a Station Master for the Hungarian State Railways the year before Zoltán was born, and in 1885 was posted to the small town of Galánta where for seven years, the family lived in the station-master’s house and where Zoltán sang in the church choir and attended the elementary school. His fellow-pupils at that school would sing the traditional gypsy folk-tunes of the region which instilled in the young boy’s heart – whose home-life was surrounded by rather more serious music-making (his father played the violin and his mother the piano) – a life-long passion for folk music. He was to become a leading figure in the creation of a new Hungarian musical voice founded on folk music and his research into Hungarian folk music is among the most important in this field. He published collections of over 4,000 indigenous Hungarian folk melodies.


While Kodály was to become one of the 20th century’s most famous composers – appearing regularly conducting his music across Europe, Russia, Britain and America – he never forgot his roots and, almost half-acentury after leaving the town, he celebrated his seven formative years as a young boy in Galánta with one of his most colourful orchestral scores, the Dances of Galánta. The work came about following a commission from the Budapest Philharmonic Society in 1933 for a new work to celebrate their 80th anniversary. Remembering the songs and dances of his school friends at Galánta he turned to a book of Hungarian gypsy dances published in Vienna in 1800 which included some dances “after several gypsies from Galánta”.


He took five of these and arranged them in one continuous movement for orchestra. It premiered in Budapest on 23 October 1933 conducted by Ernö Dohnányi. Of Kodály’s dozen or so works for orchestra, it remains one of the most popular.


A recitative-like opening from the cellos (chased by scampering strings) is imitated by the horn, the oboe and flute and gradually taken up by other members of the orchestra until the first dance is announced with a decorative flourish by a solo clarinet. The second dance is a more animated, rhythmically arresting one, and is initially played by a solo flute followed by a rich variety of instrumental colours and effects. Nevertheless the first dance reappears in the strings to provide a moment of intense passion before the third dance is announced by a light and nimble oboe. Some magical effects from high woodwinds and percussion follow, and then the violins, followed by the full orchestra take over this dance. The violins announce the energetic fourth dance, and as the momentum continues to increase, it seems that the work is building to a climax. Suddenly the music stops and the fifth dance, a melody shared between violins, violas and flute, breaks in. Some decidedly humorous writing ensues and once again the momentum builds up, this time carrying on even further until another abrupt break brings to mind the work’s opening with a long and richly expressive clarinet cadenza. The entire orchestra returns and brings this most dazzling of orchestral showpieces to a rousing and boisterous conclusion.

Programme notes by Dr Marc Rochester





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